Celebrity cookbooks 2021: The best (and worst) Christmas releases, tried and tasted

·10-min read
Cook the books: Our writers put the latest batch of releases through their paces  (Natasha Pszenicki)
Cook the books: Our writers put the latest batch of releases through their paces (Natasha Pszenicki)

Celebs and chefs, eh? If there’s one they don’t lack, it’s self-belief, as evidenced by the raft of cookbooks they’ve come out with this year.

Here, we’ve rounded up some of the most notable releases of 2021, from the actors we knew could perform on screen but had no idea they knew their way around sous vide, to some of the better-known chefs who do this stuff for a living.

How do they hold up against each other? We sent our writers into the kitchen to find out.

Taste: My Life Through Food, Stanley Tucci (£20, Fig Tree)

★★★✩✩

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Sunday night dinner called for something hearty, and on the menu was a lamb chop recipe from the internet’s husband, Stanley Tucci. I don’t usually cook red meat but this recipe was so simple (and tasty), I almost felt guilty for not having picked something I’d have to roll my sleeves up for. With just a dash of rosemary and thyme, seared with garlic and white wine, the chops were ready within 10 minutes. I served them with potato wedges and rocket. Even the recipes with the lengthier ingredient lists were fairly straight forward, making up wholesome Italian dishes and popular cocktails. The book is more a memoir with recipes but with celeb-y anecdotes, whether you’re buying it for the food or the man, it’s worth a read. Natasha Mwansa

A Cook’s Book, Nigel Slater (£25, Fourth Estate)

★★★★✩

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(Handout)

He might not be a f***ing travel agent, Helena, but Nigel Slater is a cook who writes. Or a writer who cooks. Well, both apparently, according to his latest chin-stroking 500-pager. Slater’s writing is precise but personal, and eminently sensible: he asks you to chop, not chiffonade. A recipe for chicken with peppers, lemon and mint boils down to popping the lot in the oven for an hour. Accordingly, the result offers a warm feeling, if not fireworks. But — despite the occasionally grating faux-humility, and comically wistful pictures of, say, a sash window — Slater’s book is a success: more than recipes, he’s offering ideas to springboard from. That chicken dish? The spare was left to congeal, before seasoning was doubled and paprika added: suddenly a triumph. And now I’m a writer who cooks. Or a cook who writes. Or something. Get me a soft lens, stat. David Ellis

 (Hoxton Mini Press)
(Hoxton Mini Press)

As an aside — though I haven’t had the chance to test this one just yet, another cookery book that has my attention is also from a food writer. Clare Finney’s debut, The Female Chef (£28, Hoxton Mini Press), is a collection of 31 recipes from some of the country’s finest chefs, including Nokx Majozi, Andi Oliver, Nieves Barragán and Pamela Yung. Finney has coupled these recipes with interviews, uncovering the stories behind the cooking. And in food, stories often make the dish; they set it in context, offer it a little meaning. Still, given food is fundamentally either good or bad, it’s just as well Finney has ensured her attention has been drawn to a group that are all first rate. Beautiful photos by Liz Seabrook, too.

Rebel Homemaker: Food, Family, Life, Drew Barrymore with Pilar Valdes (£25, Ebury Press)

★★★✩✩

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(Handout)

Drew Barrymore (yes, that one) says if she had to pick a signature dish, it would probably be the spaghetti she’s pictured spooning naughtily into her mouth on the front of her new “lifestyle book”, Rebel Homemaker. The Hollywood actress-turned-chef makes her pasta sauce with harissa, and picks it as one of her three go-to Thanksgiving recipes — which was convenient, given that this was the first year I had been invited to join friends for the American feast (turning up with spaghetti felt like cheating, but Barrymore does warn us her recipes are rebellious). The sauce took 20 minutes to stir up using store-cupboard ingredients like red pepper flakes and tinned tomatoes. I might have rolled my eyes at some pages in the book (there are too many pasta-gobbling selfies and wannabe Gywneth Paltrow, make-up-free poses in herb gardens), but in truth, Barrymore’s hero spaghetti was exactly what it said on the tin: messy but smoky and delicious. Maybe next year I’ll be brave enough to try the eight-person turkey roulade. Katie Strick

Ottolenghi Test Kitchen: Shelf Love, Yotam Ottolenghi and Noor Murad (£25, Ebury Press)

★★★★★

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(Handout)

Everyone I know will be receiving this as a Christmas present from me. It’s Ottolenghi (delicious) but easy (unless you’re as inept as me… more on that later) — what’s not to love? This is the first of his Ottolenghi Test Kitchen books in which he, along with his team led by development kitchen chef Noor Murad, strip back to the basics. It was conceived during the pandemic and the recipes are based on staples one might find in their (very middle-class) store cupboard. Split into easy-to-navigate sections like Fridge Raid, The Freezer is Your Friend and That One Shelf in the Back of your Pantry, there is not a single thing I wouldn’t make and devour. I attempted two recipes from the Who Does The Dishes section. The charred tomatoes, onions, peppers with feta and harissa pine nuts were tasty and straightforward — and would have been even better if I’d been less lazy and followed the recipe correctly and used fresh plum tomatoes instead of tinned. I made the same mistake with the chickpeas cacio e pepe. Instead of using dried chickpeas as clearly stated, I used tinned cooked chickpeas. The result was bad but I am entirely to blame. The clear lesson? Buy this book but don’t cut corners. Suzannah Ramsdale

Ramsay In 10, Gordon Ramsay £25, Hodder & Stoughton

★★★★✩

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(Handout)

If you’ve ever read one of Jamie Oliver’s 15-minute recipes and thought “Pah! I’m a busy Londoner and I simply do not have time for this!”, Gordon Ramsay’s here to help. The man has shaved off those final indulgent, bourgeois five minutes with a book packing in more than a hundred 10-minute recipes. As with his YouTube series of the same name, some seem eminently doable (omelettes and the like) while others are surprisingly swift, such as the ramen (rapidly formed mushroom stock is the secret weapon there). Choosing a recipe based on the ingredients I already had at home, I made the “super green” pasta with rocket, almonds and lemon. It was very simple, and very flavoursome.

But did it actually take 10 minutes? No, although I’ll admit this is down to my pedestrian cooking skills — and to be fair, Ramsay does say that some dishes might need practice to get things into single figures. But as an aid for batting away takeaway temptation and cooking from scratch, this cookbook’s a winner. Jochan Embley

Cravings — All Together, Recipes to Love: A Cookbook, Chrissy Teigen and Adeena Sussman (£29.99, Clarkson Potter)

★★★✩✩

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(Handout)

Nigella must be relieved. She used to be mocked for her simple recipes and catchphrase, “how easy is that?” Now Chrissy Teigen is here to take that mantle. The model/Twitter celebrity has written a second book containing recipes for such advanced dishes as baked potato, pasta with tomato puree and pitta bread with a filling of pretzels. Think student diet meets drunk concoctions. Eggs feature heavily — after all, Teigen went viral with a recipe for the hard boiled eggs she takes to bed in case of hunger in the night.

The prose is like Teigen’s Twitter feed — unfiltered and in need of fewer exclamation marks – but, like all good cook books, it does tell a story. Teigen’s persona is all about not taking herself too seriously. Her rise and fall have been dramatic – New York cookery writer Alison Roman was cancelled after criticising Teigen, then Teigen herself was cancelled after being accused of bullying people on Twitter. This book acknowledges that she has had a difficult year – that’s why this is all about comfort food. It is dedicated to Jack, the baby she miscarried last October.

The book is not entirely terrible, possibly thanks to co-writer Adeena Sussman. The kids’ baking section is the best bit, full of fun, uncomplicated sugar hits like chocolate cookies decorated to look like spiders. The “date night cod in spicy tomato butter sauce” is not a particularly original dish but Teigen gives it a twist by adding jalepenos for extra punch. Unlike the prose, the recipes are easy to follow, with accurate timings and serving suggestions — to ensure you make enough and don’t need a night egg. Susannah Butter

First Put on Your Apron, Sally Clarke (£30, Sally Clarke Ltd)

★★★★✩

 (Sally Clarke)
(Sally Clarke)

When Sally Clarke’s son Sam went off to university she worried about him eating properly – though frankly, few of us do by the standards of Sally Clarke. So she had the idea of a cookbook for all the young people on their own who don’t have the time or capacity to cook for themselves. This isn’t your normal student cookbook — though there’s a very nice hamburger recipe. Rather, it’s really good food, done simply, with recipes rated by difficulty, though none is hard. It’s subdivided by things like “lunch…on the run” or “lunch…no time restrictions” or “dinner alone”, and by the time of year – seasonal cooking is her big thing. I did the pissaladiere, the open onion tart, decorated with red pepper rather than anchovy, and it was a breeze. Next up, pumpkin and blue cheese galette. Like I say, not your normal student cookbook. Melanie McDonagh

Essential, Ollie Dabbous (£30, Bloomsbury)

★★★★✩

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(Handout)

Coming from Michelin-starred Ollie Dabbous, Essential is, at first glance, intimidating. Generally speaking, if I have to Google what an ingredient is, I’m disinclined to use it. With “einkorn wheat” jumping out at me in the first chapter, this might be a problem.

Upon closer inspection though, Dabbous’ book is relatively simple. He provides alternatives for most hard-to-source ingredients, explains the more obscure spice mixes and is informative without being too lengthy. I plumped for wild mushrooms and duck egg on toast and baked hispi cabbage with smoked eel, garlic and parsley butter — although I did sub the eel for salmon as Sainsbury’s sadly failed me. Both were almost too easy to make, with pools of golden butter and plenty of smoky umaminess making the hispi cabbage an instant hit. Jessica Benjamin

Fortnum and Mason: Christmas and Other Winter Feasts, Tom Parker Bowles (£30, Fourth Estate)

★★★★✩

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(Handout)

The twinning of the Queen’s grocer with Camilla’s food-writer son is interesting, don’t you think? It covers the ground for old-school customers: the chapters go from Guy Fawkes to Glorious Game, Skating, Drinks and Waste Not, Want Not (for leftovers) with disappointingly healthy stuff in January Eating. So, venison sausages for Guy Fawkes, game suet pudding and a heavenly-sounding grouse and foie gras pie for game, though vegetarians get a fairly good showing too — Mushroom Wellington, anyone? — and there are the requisite Christmas staples. The lively illustrations are by the great designer, Edward Bawden, who worked for Fortnum’s before and after the war.

I tried Tom P-B’s take on sausage roll, with prunes cooked in brandy, cranberries and port, and it made for a moreish, slightly fruity treat. My ungrateful children prefer the plain sort. Melanie McDonagh

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